Medal.tv’s clipping service allows gamers to share the moments of their digital lives

As online gaming becomes the new social forum for living out virtual lives, a new startup called Medal.tv has raised $3.5 million for its in-game clipping service to capture and share the Kodak moments and digital memories that are increasingly happening in places like Fortnite or Apex Legends.

Digital worlds like Fortnite are now far more than just a massively multiplayer gaming space. They’re places where communities form, where social conversations happen, and where, increasingly, people are spending the bulk of their time online. They even host concerts — like the one from EDM artist, Marshmello, which drew (according to the DJ himself) roughly 10 million players onto the platform.

While several services exist to provide clips of live streams from gamers who broadcast on platforms like Twitch, Medal.tv bills itself as the first to offer clipping services for the private games that more casual gamers play among friends and far flung strangers around the world.

“Essentially the next generation is spending the same time inside games that we used to playing sports outside and things like that,” says Medal.tv’s co-founder and chief executive, Pim DeWitte. “It’s not possible to tell how far it will go. People will capture as many if not more moments for the reason that it’s simpler.”

The company marks a return to the world of gaming for DeWitte, a serial entrepreneur who first started coding when he was 13 years old.

Hailing from a small town in the Netherlands called Nijmegen, DeWitte first reaped the rewards of startup success with a gaming company called SoulSplit. Built on the back of his popular YouTube channel the SoulSplit game was launched with DeWitte’s childhood friend, Iggy Harmsen, and a fellow online gamer, Josh Lipson who came on board as SoulSplit’s chief technology officer.

At its height, Soulsplit was bringing in $1 million in revenue and employed roughly 30 people, according to interviews with DeWitte.

The company shut down in 2015 and the co-founders split up to pursue other projects. For DeWitte that meant a stint working with Doctors Without Borders on an app called MapSwipe that would use satellite imagery to better locate people in the event of a humanitarian crisis. He also helped the non-profit develop a tablet that could be used by doctors deployed to treat Ebola outbreaks.

Then in 2017, as social gaming was becoming more popular on games like Fortnite, DeWitte and his co-founders returned to the industry to launch Medal .tv.

It initially started as a marketing tool to get people interested in playing the games that DeWitte and his co-founders were hoping to develop. But as the clipping service took off, DeWitte and co. realized that they potentially had a more interesting social service on their hands.

“We were going to build a mobile app and were going to load a bunch of videos of people playing games and then we’re going to load videos of our games,” DeWitte says. 

The service allows users to capture the last 15 seconds of gameplay using different recording mechanisms based on game type. Medal.tv captures gameplay on a device and users can opt-in to record sound as well.

It is programmed so that it only records the game,” DeWitte says. “There is no inbound connection. It only calls for the API [and] all of the things that would be somewhat dangerous from a privacy perspective are all opt-in.”

 

There are roughly 30,000 users on the platform every week and around 15,000 daily active users, according to DeWitte. Launched last May, the company has been growing between 5% and 10% weekly, according to DeWitte. Typically, users are sharing clips through Discord, WhatsApp and Instagram direct messages, DeWitte said.

In addition to the consumer-facing clipping service, Medal also offers a data collection service that aggregates information about the clips that are shared by Medal’s users so game developers and streamers can get a sense of how clips are being shared across what platform.

“We look at clips as a form of communication and in most activity that we see, that’s how it’s being used,” says DeWitte.

But that information is also valuable to esports organizations to determine where they need to allocate new resources.

“Medal.tv Metrics is spectacular,” said Peter Levin, Chairman of the Immortals esports organization, in a statement. “With it, any gaming organization gains clear, actionable insights into the organic reach of their content, and can build a roadmap to increase it in a measurable way.”

The activity that Medal was seeing was impressive enough to attract the attention of investors led by Backed VC and Initial Capital. Ridge Ventures, Makers Fund, and Social Starts, all participated in the company’s $3.5 million round as well, with Alex Brunicki, a founding partner at Backed, and Matteo Vallone, principal at Initial, joining the company’s board.

“Emerging generations are experiencing moments inside games the same way we used to with sports and festivals growing up. Digital and physical identity are merging and the technology for gamers hasn’t evolved to support that.” said Alex Brunicki, partner at Backed.vc, in a statement.

Medal’s platform works with games like Apex Legends, Fortnite, Roblox, Minecraft and Oldschool Runescape (where DeWitte first cut his teeth in gaming).

“Friends are the main driver of game discovery, and game developers benefit from shareable games as a result. Medal.tv is trying to enable that without the complexity of streaming” said Vallone, who previously headed up games for Google Play Europe, and now sits on the Medal board. 

 

China tells teachers to quit assigning homework through WeChat

China’s education authorities are about to take some burden off parents with school-aged children. A proposal posted last week by the Department of Education in China’s eastern province of Zhejiang said teachers should be banned from using WeChat, QQ or other mobile apps to assign homework or ask parents to grade students’ assignments.

As mobile internet booms in China, phones have become an extension of daily activities, including school practices. Instead of announcing homework in class or handing out notices to students in person, teachers are now dumping assignments into WeChat groups designed to interact with parents. Many teachers are keen to exercise their power through these digital channels, asking parents to help students with problem sets and even grade their homework.

The regional call to action follows a set of national guidelines released by the Ministry of Education in October directing teachers and schools to take more responsibilities rather than shift the load onto parents. “Teachers should be accountable for their job, treat teaching seriously, correct homework with prudence and help students with care.”

Not all schools abuse digital platforms to such an extent. A Shenzhen-based parent told TechCrunch that her second-grader who attends a local public school still does much of her homework in written form and parents’ involvement is moderate.

“Different schools treat technology differently and I’m not opposed to the use of it. It’s helpful, for example, to use a digital device to learn English because much of the process involves audios and videos,” the parent said. “I think sometimes media are painting teachers and schools in such a negative light just to get attention.”

Other recommendations in the national notice include limiting the amount of online homework to reduce nearsightedness, which has become a source of concerns for parents and society at large.

The new directives also come as Beijing tries to rein in what and how private technology services are infiltrating students’ lives. In one far-reaching move, the government ordered video-game publishers to cap children’s playing time, sending shares of industry leaders Tencent and NetEase tumbling. More recently, the Ministry of Education asked schools and universities to audit apps used by teachers and students on campus in accordance with guidelines set by the regulator.

Despite the government’s intent to ease stress and unplug devices for students, education apps have flourished in China. Those that help students outperform their peers have done particularly well. Yuanfudao, a startup that offers live courses, exam prep and homework help, gained a $3 billion valuation in its latest $300 million funding round in December. Its rivals Zuoyebang and Yiqi Zuoye have similarly attracted big-name investors and sizable funds to help their young users get ahead.

Spotify says it paid $340M to buy Gimlet and Anchor

Spotify doubled down on podcasts last week with a double deal to buy podcast networks Gimlet and Anchor. Those acquisitions were initially undisclosed, but Spotify has quietly confirmed that it spent €300 million, just shy of $340 million, to capture the companies.

That’s according to an SEC filing — hat tip Recode’s Peter Kafka — which deals the transactions which were “primarily in cash,” Spotify said. Kafka previously reported that Spotify paid around $200 million for Gimlet, which, if correct, would mean Anchor fetched the remaining $140 million.

Those numbers represent an impressive return for the investors involved, particularly those who backed the companies at seed stage.

Gimlet raised $28.5 million from investors that included Stripes Group, WPP, Betaworks and Lowercase Capital, according to Crunchbase.

Anchor, meanwhile, raised $14.4 million. Crunchbase data shows its backers included Accel, GV, Homebrew and (again) Betaworks.

Those deals represent a good chunk of change, but Spotify still has more fuel in the tanks.

As we reported last week, it plans to spend a total of up to $500 million this year “on multiple acquisitions” as it seeks to further its position on podcasting which, to date, has been an after-thought to its focus on music. Less these deals, Spotify has around $160 million left in its spending budget for 2019.

In a blog post announcing the deals published last week, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek admitted that he didn’t originally release that “audio — not just music — would be the future of Spotify” when he founded the business in 2006.

“This opportunity starts with the next phase of growth in audio — podcasting. There are endless ways to tell stories that serve to entertain, to educate, to challenge, to inspire, or to bring us together and break down cultural barriers. The format is really evolving and while podcasting is still a relatively small business today, I see incredible growth potential for the space and for Spotify in particular,” Ek explained.

Manipulating an Indian politician’s tweets is worryingly easy to do

Here’s a concerning story from India, where the upcoming election is putting the use of social media in the spotlight.

While the Indian government is putting Facebook, Google and other companies under pressure to prevent their digital platforms from being used for election manipulation, a journalist has demonstrated just how easy it is to control the social media messages that published by government ministers.

Pon Radhakrishnan, India’s minister of state for finance and shipping, published a series of puzzling tweets today after Pratik Sinha, a co-founder of fact-checking website Alt News, accessed a Google document of prepared statements and tinkered with the content.

Among the statements tweeted out, Radhakrishnan said Prime Minister Modi’s government had failed the middle classes and not made development on improving the country’s general welfare. Sinha’s edits also led to the official BJP Assam Pradesh account proclaiming that the Prime Minister had destroyed all villages and made women slaves to cooking.

These are the opposite of the partisan messages that the accounts intended to send.

The messages were held in an unlocked Google document that contained a range of tweets compiled for the Twitter accounts. Sinha managed to access the document and doctor the messages into improbable statements — which he has done before — in order to show the shocking lack of security and processes behind the social media content.

Sinha said he made the edits “to demonstrate how dangerous this is from the security standpoint for this country.”

“I had fun but it could have disastrous consequences,” he told TechCrunch in a phone interview. “This is a massive security issue from the point of view of a democracy.”

Sinha said he was able to access the document — which was not restricted or locked to prevent changes — through a WhatsApp group that is run by members of the party. Declining to give specifics, he said he had managed to infiltrate the group and thus gain access to a flow of party and government information and, even more surprisingly, get right into the documents and edit them.

What’s equally as stunning is that, even with the message twisted 180 degrees, their content didn’t raise an alarm. The tweets were still loaded and published without any realization. It was only after Sinha went public with the results that Radhakrishnan and BJP Assam Pradesh account begin to delete them.

The Indian government is rightly grilling Facebook and Google to prevent its platform being abused around the election, as evidence suggested happened in the U.S. Presidential election and the U.K’s Brexit vote, but members of the government themselves should reflect on the security of their own systems, too. It would be too easy for these poor systems to be exploited.

Apple tells app developers to disclose or remove screen recording code

Apple is telling app developers to remove or properly disclose their use of analytics code that allows them to record how a user interacts with their iPhone apps — or face removal from the app store, TechCrunch can confirm.

In an email, an Apple spokesperson said: “Protecting user privacy is paramount in the Apple ecosystem. Our App Store Review Guidelines require that apps request explicit user consent and provide a clear visual indication when recording, logging, or otherwise making a record of user activity.”

“We have notified the developers that are in violation of these strict privacy terms and guidelines, and will take immediate action if necessary,” the spokesperson added.

It follows an investigation by TechCrunch that revealed major companies, like Expedia, Hollister and Hotels.com, were using a third-party analytics tool to record every tap and swipe inside the app. We found that none of the apps we tested asked the user for permission, and none of the companies said in their privacy policies that they were recording a user’s app activity.

Even though sensitive data is supposed to be masked, some data — like passport numbers and credit card numbers — was leaking.

Glassbox is a cross-platform analytics tool that specializes in session replay technology. It allows companies to integrate its screen recording technology into their apps to replay how a user interacts with the apps. Glassbox says it provides the technology, among many reasons, to help reduce app error rates. But the company “doesn’t enforce its customers” to mention that they use Glassbox’s screen recording tools in their privacy policies.

But Apple expressly forbids apps that covertly collect data without a user’s permission.

TechCrunch began hearing on Thursday that app developers had already been notified that their apps had fallen afoul of Apple’s rules. One app developer was told by Apple to remove code that recorded app activities, citing the company’s app store guidelines.

“Your app uses analytics software to collect and send user or device data to a third party without the user’s consent. Apps must request explicit user consent and provide a clear visual indication when recording, logging, or otherwise making a record of user activity,” Apple said in the email.

Apple gave the developer less than a day to remove the code and resubmit their app or the app would be removed from the app store, the email said.

When asked if Glassbox was aware of the app store removals, a spokesperson for Glassbox said that “the communication with Apple is through our customers.”

Glassbox is also available to Android app developers. Google did not immediately comment if it would also ban the screen recording code. Google Play also expressly prohibits apps from secretly collecting device usage. “Apps must not hide or cloak tracking behavior or attempt to mislead users about such functionality,” the developer rules state. We’ll update if and when we hear back.

It’s the latest privacy debacle that has forced Apple to wade in to protect its customers after apps were caught misbehaving.

Last week, TechCrunch reported that Apple banned Facebook’s “research” app that the social media giant paid teenagers to collect all of their data.

It followed another investigation by TechCrunch that revealed Facebook misused its Apple-issued enterprise developer certificate to build and provide apps for consumers outside Apple’s App Store. Apple temporarily revoked Facebook’s enterprise developer certificate, knocking all of the company’s internal iOS apps offline for close to a day.

Skype can now blur the background during video calls

Thanks to the rise of WhatsApp and other free calling and messaging apps, Skype is no longer the go-to service it once was for many people. But the company just added a new feature which might raise its appeal among users.

The Microsoft-owned service’s latest addition is a screen-blurring feature designed to obscure your messy room or any other background details that you’d rather weren’t on display to the other party on the line.

Skype said that the feature — which is similar to the blurring added to Microsoft Teams last year — uses artificial intelligence to keep the focus on the caller. That also means it will detect features such as hair, hands and arms.

The feature is rolling out to Skype for desktop, the web and mobile although it doesn’t support all devices yet. It can be enabled in Skype’s settings or from the video call button inside the service.

Chat app Line injects $182M into its mobile payment business

Japanese messaging app company Line is pumping 20 billion JPY ($182 million) into its mobile payment business as it tries to turn things around following a challenging year in 2018.

The company announced the infusion into Line Pay, a subsidiary that it fully owns, in a filing which stated that the new capital is “necessary funds for its future business operation.” No further details were provided.

The investment comes on the heels of Line’s latest financial report which saw it post a 5.79 billion JPY loss as revenue grew by 24 percent to reach 207.18 billion JPY in 2018. Line has long been a top money maker in the App Store, but its efforts to build out content around its messaging platform and games division have turned out to be expensive, with a job service, manga platform and e-commerce business among its ventures.

In addition to additional content, payments are also seen as ‘glue’ that can increase engagement within the Line ecosystem and its main messaging app.

The company is going after the cashless opportunity in Japan, where it is the dominant chat app with an estimated 50 million registered users. The country is notable for its continued use of cash, but the government is using the upcoming 2020 Olympic Games as an opportunity to move towards a digital future. Aside from its core Line Pay service, which sits inside the Line chat app, Line is introducing its own credit card with Visa and it has gone after Chinese tourists through a tie-in with Tencent, the internet giant behind China’s top messaging app WeChat.

Outside of Japan, Line Pay is also available in Thailand (where it works with the Bangkok metro provider), Taiwan (where it counts two banks as partners) and Indonesia, which Line says are its next three largest markets in terms of user numbers. Together, across those four countries, Line claims it has 165 million monthly active users and 40 million registered Line Pay users. Line said GMV reached 55 billion JPY ($482 million) per month back in November 2017, there’s been no update since.

The service was launched more widely but it has shuttered in other markets, including Singapore where it was ended in February 2018.

Beyond payment, Line is also moving into banking and financial services. It is working to launch a digital bank in Japan and last year it announced plans to investigate the potential to roll out loans, insurance and other services backed by its own cryptocurrency. While it didn’t hold an ICO — its ‘Link’ token is earned or can be bought on exchanges — Line did dive into crypto in a major way, opening its own exchange and starting a crypto investment fund, too. With the bear market in full effect, and token valuations dropping by 90 percent across the board, we haven’t heard too much more from Line on its crypto plans.

Hulu teams up with that world record Instagram egg to raise awareness of mental health

Remember that egg that became Instagram’s most-liked post? It used its recently-acquired fame to shed light on mental health and the pressures of social media.

The account now has 10 million followers — its record photo has over 52 million likes — and it put that audience to use with a 30-second video that aired on Hulu around the Super Bowl. The account had teased a major revealed in recent weeks, and it proved to be the short spot with Hulu that promotes mental health awareness, particularly around the context of using social media.

“Recently I’ve started to crack… the pressure of social media is getting to me,” the video reads as the egg’s shell begins to crack before breaking into pieces.

“If you’re struggling too, talk to someone,” the egg says before it is resurrected with a full shell once again.

The video closes with a link to the Mental Health America website.

The video received praise from Mental Health America and many others on Twitter, but plenty of its Instagram followers expected more or don’t have a Hulu account, according to comments.

At the same time, the creators of the account — three advertising executives in South London — revealed background on the project, the egg is called “Eugene,” in an interview with the New York Times.

The trio — Chris Godfrey, Alissa Khan-Whelan and C.J. Brown — explained that they had been approached by Hulu, which had paid to develop the video which aims to take advantage of the hype and online chatter around the Super Bowl to raise its message. Given that the account is followed by a large number of children, as its creators acknowledged in the interview, a positive message like this rather than a commercial sell-out is a pleasant surprise, particularly when it is estimated that brand deals could fetch $10 million.

Hulu is the first to get a crack at the egg, but it remains to be seen if its appeal to brands will endure and whether its future messaging and partners will also be health-related.

Facebook removes hundreds of accounts linked to fake news group in Indonesia

Facebook said today it has removed hundreds of Facebook and Instagram counts with links to an organization that peddled fake news.

The world’s fourth largest country with a population of over 260 million, Indonesia is in election year alongside Southeast Asia neighbors Thailand and the Philippines. Facebook said this week it has set up an ‘election integrity’ team in Singapore, its APAC HQ, as it tries to prevent its social network being misused in the lead-up to voting as happened in the U.S.

This Indonesia bust is the first move announced since that task force was put in place, and it sees 207 Facebook Pages, 800 Facebook accounts, 546 Facebook Groups, and 208 Instagram accounts removed for “engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior.”

“About 170,000 people followed at least one of these Facebook Pages, and more than 65,000 followed at least one of these Instagram accounts,” Facebook said of the reach of the removed accounts.

The groups and accounts are linked to Saracen Group, a digital media group that saw three of its members arrested by police in 2016 for spreading “incendiary material,’ as Reuters reports.

Facebook isn’t saying too much about the removals other than: “we don’t want our services to be used to manipulate people.”

In January, the social network banned a fake news group in the Philippines in similar circumstances.

Despite the recent action, the U.S. company has struggled to manage the flow of false information that flows across its services in Asia. The most extreme examples come from Myanmar, where the UN has concluded that Facebook played a key role in escalating religious hatred and fueling violence. Facebook has also been criticized for allowing manipulation in Sri Lanka and the Philippines among other places.

Grab raises $200M from Thailand-based retail conglomerate Central Group

Grab’s fundraising push continues unabated after the Southeast Asian ride-hailing firm announced that it has raised $200 million from Central Group, a retail conglomerate based in Thailand.

Central’s business covers restaurants, hotels and more than 30 malls in Thailand, while it has operations in markets that include Vietnam and Indonesia. Its public-listed holding companies alone are worth more than $15 billion.

Singapore-based Grab confirmed that this deal is not part of its ongoing Series H fundraising, but is instead an investment into its Thailand-based business. Rumors of the deal were first reported by Reuters last year.

Following this investment, Central said it will work with Grab in a number of areas in Thailand, including bringing its restaurants into the Grab Food service, adding Grab transportation to its physical outlets and bringing Grab’s logistics service into its businesses.

The investment represents the first time an investor has bought into a local Grab country unit, and the goal is to strengthen Grab’s position in Thailand — a market with 70 million consumers and Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy. Grab is under threat from Go-Jek, which expanded to Thailand at the end of 2018. While Go-Jek’s ‘Get’ service is currently limited to motorbikes on-demand in Thailand, its ambition is to recreate its Indonesia-based business that covers four-wheeled cars, mobile payments, on-demand services and more.

Central is a huge presence in the country, and in recent years it has raised its efforts to translate that offline retail presence into the digital space. Past deals have included the acquisition of Rocket Internet’s Zalora fashion business in 2016, and — more recently — a $500 million joint venture with Chinese e-commerce firm JD.com to create online retail and fintech businesses in Thailand.

Grab, meanwhile, is pushing on with its $3 billion Series H funding round. That deal is anchored by a $1 billion investment from Toyota but it also includes contributions from the likes of Microsoft, Booking Holdings and Yamaha Motors. More capital is waiting in the wings, however, with existing investor SoftBank in the process of transferring its investment to its Vision Fund with a view to investing a further $1.5 billion. The total fundraising effort is targeted at a lofty goal of $5 billion, sources told TechCrunch.

To date, Grab has raised $6.8 billion from investors, according to data from Crunchbase. That makes it Southeast Asia’s most capitalized tech startup and it was most recently valued at $11 billion. The company recently announced it has completed three billion rides; it claims 130 million downloads across its eight markets.

Go-Jek, meanwhile, closed the first portion of a $2 billion funding round last week, sources told TechCrunch. The new financing is aimed at growing out its presence in new market expansions which, beyond Thailand, include Singapore, Vietnam and the Philippines.